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School district collaborates to support troops

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What started out as a challenge became a community effort in a matter of hours.

When David Justice, a Special Education Resource Teacher at Soldotna High School, found out his sister-in-law, Maj. Patricia Justice, would be deploying to Afghanistan, he started to send her care packages that would remind her of home while she was deployed. The best part of the boxes, she relayed to Justice, were the magazines.

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“They’re just stuck in this hole, basically, they don’t have any reminders that they’re even American, so the magazines were a big hit,” Justice said.

The magazines were a big hit and as the troops latched onto the magazines, so did Central Kenai Peninsula students, teachers and principals, who rallied around the idea of supporting their troops a half-a-world away.

Patricia, who resides in Peach Tree City, Ga., has been in the Army Reserves for the last 20 years, Justice said. In Afghanistan, she is serving as the head E.R. nurse in the forward surgical team, a position held by about 18 people, Justice said.

“They get guys right off the battlefield,” he said. “They prep ’em and stabilize ’em to get them to a safer area where they can get the surgery done.”

Knowing magazines were one of the most sought-after reminders of home, Justice approached SoHi Principal Todd Syverson on Nov. 18 about sponsoring a couple of boxes that could go to the troops overseas. Syverson obliged. 

“I asked him how many he’d want to sponsor, they’re $12.95 a box, he agreed to pay for 10 boxes,” Justice said. “I was like, ‘holy (cow)’”.

With Syverson’s eagerness to help, Justice immediately started to look at the big picture. He asked Syverson to put out a challenge to the other principals in the area to help donate materials.

“Around 9 a.m., Todd sent out an e-mail to pretty much all of the principals in the Soldotna/Kenai area,” Justice said. “By about 2 p.m. there were 10 or 11 schools that agreed to send something.”

Pegge Erkeneff, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Communications Specialist, sat back at her desk and watched her e-mail inbox fill up with supportive schools. The first e-mail she received was the original e-mail from Justice to Syverson asking for help.

“The subject line read, ‘Just a thought...,’” Erkeneff said. “From there, my inbox filled up with e-mails from principals from the Central Peninsula giving their support, saying, ‘we’re in’ or ‘we would like to help’, among other supportive statements.”

The official count, according to the Erkeneff, is 14 participating schools throughout the Central Kenai Peninsula.

“It was awesome, it was hard to believe,” Justice said about the effort. “(Syverson) jumped on it, (the other schools) jumped on it. Literally before the day was out that many schools had agreed to do it, and they’ve been doing it.

“She gets these boxes and passes them out to different units in her division.”

Erkeneff stressed Nov. 18 was not just a day for the community to come together, but it also signified something larger.

“It was our School Principal Recognition Day as proclaimed by Gov. (Sean) Parnell,” she said. “Our principals demonstrated they went above and beyond to collaborate for a common cause.

“It was really inspiring to watch that unfold.”

The effort isn’t the sole effort made by KPBSD schools to support America’s troops. It’s just one of many projects conducted throughout the year.

The elementary schools made writing assignments out of the project — to have their students write letters to the 6,000 troops at Patricia’s base, Justice said. The letters had an astounding effect. Justice estimates at least 400 to 500 pounds of magazines and hundreds of letters have been sent to Patricia.

“Some did thank-you letters, some did support for the troops, some did a holiday greeting thing,” Justice said. “They took all the letters and put them in a box and sent them off.

“I’ve gotten an e-mail or two back from Patty that said those letters are just priceless — she said she saved a couple for her journal that she’s been keeping.”

Justice wants to continue sending care packages overseas, and is willing to help anyone who wants to send also. There is some paperwork involved, including a customs declaration form.

“I’d be more than willing to help fill forms out and I’ve been getting those large flat-rate boxes by the case,” Justice said. “I would be willing to make the box up for them — all they have to do is stuff it full and take it to the Post Office and send it.

“That would be the coolest thing if other people can send stuff there.”

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.

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